Arctic to Atacama: Part 2 – Chile’s Atacama
Posted on June 16 2017
This is the second part of Jen Segger’s incredible bike packing adventure that took her from frigid temperatures in the Arctic to the scorching heat of Chile’s Atacama desert. Check out photos and stories from the first half of her journey in Arctic to Atacama: Part 1.
“We flew back through Ottawa for a gear change out and a crew addition. It was Atacama GO TIME and we had a lot of gear and a greatly welcomed support team to assist us with this next leg. By the time we landed in Arica, Chile with over 16 bags of luggage we were now a team of 9. Photographer Jon Golden remained with us along with incredibly talented videographer Chris Tran. Co-found of i2P Bob Cox was heading up the crew team and we had Javier Aguilera and Christian Sieveking from Chile both on board. We knew that our bikes would need constant attention if we were to survive the 1200km+ crazy terrain awaiting us so we brought along bike mechanic Brian to take on this role.
We flew Air Canada down on a direct flight from Ottawa to Santiago and then onto Chile’s most Northern city, Arica, right on the Peruvian-Chilean border. Seaside for 2 nights, we rested, fuelled and put our full suspension mountain bikes together. For this leg of the adventure, we had opted to ride the Felt Decree as we knew that it was a stellar 27.5 bike that would stand up in a harsh desert. Thankfully, all our bags and bikes arrived and before we knew it, Ray, Steffano and I were back in the saddle and heading South. 1200km of incredibly hot and ever changing terrain awaited us.
Now, try as I might, I can’t actually re-call the day by day mileage and terrain. For an epic of this length, days and timeframes blurr together. There is only one focus of the day…..take care of yourself, take care of your team mates, bike many kilometers, beat the winds and of course, have fun! You quickly find yourself very much living in the moment and just settling into the routine of expedition life. The Atacama is a long, narrow desert that spans a good part of Chile. To the left was the Andes and to the right was the coastal range that separated the desert from the ocean. What lies in between is an ever changing, challenging desert.
The first few days of the expedition was mostly on pavement. There was only one way to cross the Northern part of Chile via bike and it was on the Panamerican Highway. While it did allow us to put some distance down, we were eager to get off-road and find some dirt. Contrary to the Arctic, it was really nice to have crew on this leg. Water bottles were always filled and snacks never too far. We made our way through some larger towns over the first few days as we tackled some massive climbs lasting several hours and some insane descents of 20km+. The views of deep canyons below us were insane.
As Ray, Steffano and I put hundreds of kilometers behind us, we had transitioned to an amazing part of Chile that very few people ever get to experience. Rich in history, we marvelled at the old ruins, ancient villages, petroglyphs and abandoned mines that we biked through. There was also an intricit network of current, functioning mines throughout the Atacama that took careful planning to avoid. The heart of the Atacama Desert was amazing. Some days we rode old railway tracks as their lines proved to be the most direct. Other days we were completely off-road, picking our way through dirt, soft sand and sometimes when got lucky, hard, clay like mud that looked like chocolate. One thing is for certain, there are no two parts of the desert that are the same. As such, everyday was completely unique. I felt like we were a three person team in an adventure race except for this was not a race at all. It was purely an adventure and it felt awesome to have it be just that!
As we biked along, Ray would tell us about the highlights that we’d see and he’d share his stories from his run across various deserts over the years. We’d talk about random races and epics that we’d all done. I’d talk about how much I missed my son Kiel back home. We’d debate nutrition and training topics. Steffano would talk about Italy and the mountains and Ray and I decided that we needed to go to his home area soon to play. And lots of the time, we’d just say nothing at all. Hours could pass and we’d all be lost in our own thoughts or cursing at the wind if it was head on. We did have our share of tail winds though and when the speed picked up, we were flying!
The goal each day was to be biking by 8am or 8:30am and to get as far as we could before the afternoon winds kicked in. We could almost put money on it that by 3pm each day the winds would turn on. This made setting up camp a challenge for the crew each day. While Ray, Steffano I recovered and re-fuelled under the pop up tent, our amazing team worked hard to set tents and prepare dinner. Brian worked on the bikes and us riders would try to scrub all the dirt off our legs from the days terrain. The deeper we got into the desert, the hotter the temperatures so hydration and proper nutrition at the end of long bike hours was essential.
Of the 1200km’s we covered, one of the highlights for myself was sleeping under the Atacama sky at night. We’d go to bed with the setting sun. While Jon and Chris typically stayed up to mess around with cameras and time lapses that captured the amazing night time desert, I’d snuggle into my sleeping bag and try to keep my eyes open until I saw 5 shooting starts. This was not a hard task mind you, the milky way delivers hundreds of shooting stars constantly. Interestingly enough, the desert gets very chilly at night. I was grateful for my Icebreaker base layer and thermal X-ped sleeping mat below me. Oh, and for this trip I even had a travel pillow, something I’ve never owned until now. Good sleep was essential to having good energy the next day.
I found that expedition life quickly became a simple way of living. Everyone found their groove and role very fast. The 9 of us became a very efficient team and I’m extremely grateful for our crew who gave their time and energy so that Ray, Steffano and I could achieve our goal. Crewing is not easy and I will be forever thankful to our amazing team. In total, we were out in the Atacama for 12 days before we arrived at the most Southern point of the desert, the town of Copiopo.
I’m still trying to process this once in a lifetime adventure. How did I get so lucky to experience two drastically different places in 1 unforgetable adventure. I was challenged, humbled and inspired. Arctic2Atacama truly was the trip of a lifetime! As with all major challenges in life, we learn a little more about ourselves each time. Hours on the bike and nights under the stars enable me to step back from daily patterns, reflect, think, re-energize and set new goals. I returned home excited for the next chapter in life and eager to start planning the next adventure.
ONWARDS….thanks to all who followed along, gave their support and of course to my partner Norm who held the fort while I was away
All Photos by John Golden
We’ve already gotten loads of questions on what specific gear we used and what we ate. I hope the below helps. A lot of time went into planning for this expedition as we knew that our equipment choices would be critical to success!
Bike: Felt DD
Tires: 45NRTH (studded dillinger 5)
Sleeping: Tentipi, -50 Mountain Hardwear sleeping bag, Xped down sleeping mat
Food: approx 1800 calories a day (approx)
B: coffee, dense oatmeal (with Garden on Life chocolate raw meal, Manitoba Harvest hemp hearts, coconut oil)
S: Manitoba Harvest hemp bites, Fruit 3 bars, PODS gum, almonds
D: tea, hot chocolate, instant noodle soup, mashed potatoes with coconut oil
Footwear: Baffin boots
Baselayer: Icebreaker (zone long sleeve and bottoms 200w, ski sock)
Outerlayers: Canada Goose (hybridge lite jacket, tundra jacket, brookvale jacket, parka, puffy pants)
Goggles: Rudy Project goggles (with face mask sewn on)
Other Key Items: satellite phone (Iridium Go), -50 sleeping bag, Exped down sleeping mat, Lupine headlamp, MSR stove x 3, bike racking system, pogies
Bike: Felt Decree
Sleeping: Tentipi, -40 MEC sleeping bag (I sleep cold)
Fuel: Coffee! Manitoba Harvest Hemp Bites, Carpo-pro, Agisko, Fruit 3 bars, chips, rice & beans, eggs
Hydration System: Osprey Raven 10
Eyewear & Helmet: Rudy Project
Appreciated Key Items: comfy camp clothes for post ride R&R (SHREDLY shorts, thermal icebreaker) pillow, aloe cream for skin, toohbrush, a crew, wipes to get the dust off!!!”